Direct observation of the evolving metal–support interaction of individual cobalt nanoparticles at the titania and silica interface†
Understanding the metal–support interaction (MSI) is crucial to comprehend how the catalyst support affects performance and whether this interaction can be exploited in order to design new catalysts with enhanced properties. Spatially resolved soft X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) in combination with Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) and Scanning Helium Ion-Milling Microscopy (SHIM) has been applied to visualise and characterise the behaviour of individual cobalt nanoparticles (CoNPs) supported on two-dimensional substrates (SiOxSi(100) (x < 2) and rutile TiO2(110)) after undergoing reduction–oxidation–reduction (ROR). The behaviour of the Co species is observed to be strongly dependent on the type of support. For SiOxSi a weaker MSI between Co and the support allows a complete reduction of CoNPs although they migrate and agglomerate. In contrast, a stronger MSI of CoNPs on TiO2 leads to only a partial reduction under H2 at 773 K (as observed from Co L3-edge XAS data) due to enhanced TiO2 binding of surface-exposed cobalt. SHIM data revealed that the interaction of the CoNPs is so strong on TiO2, that they are seen to spread at and below the surface and even to migrate up to ∼40 nm away. These results allow us to better understand deactivation phenomena and additionally demonstrate a new understanding concerning the nature of the MSI for Co/TiO2 and suggest that there is scope for careful control of the post-synthetic thermal treatment for the tuning of this interaction and ultimately the catalytic performance.